U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky officially announced his candidacy for the 2016 presidential election April 7 at a rally in Louisville.
“I have a message, a message that is loud and clear and does not mince words,” Paul said at the rally. “We’ve come to take our country back. … The Washington machine that gobbles up our freedoms and invades every nook and cranny of our lives must be stopped.”
Paul is the second official contender vying with a crowded field of GOP possibilities for the party’s nomination. These include Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who announced his campaign in late March, and others who have yet to formally declare their intentions, including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
So far, the contest is a toss-up, polls show. One highly cited nationwide CNN poll of Republicans released recently showed Bush with 16 percent of the potential primary vote, followed by Walker with 13 percent. Paul came in third with 12 percent.
Paul, an optometrist by trade, swept into office in 2010 with heavy support from far-right tea party supporters. His campaign included vows to shrink the size of government, stand up for free market principles and end U.S. intervention in many foreign conflicts.
The Kentucky Senator is walking a tightrope between the libertarian legacy of his father, former Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who ran for president several times himself, and more mainstream conservative policies. The younger Paul is trying to court both his father’s rabid followers and the more traditional GOP establishment, where big donors and powerful endorsements are to be had.
The differences between the two are matters of degree: Ron Paul would like to legalize all drugs, abolish the NSA and make the United States more strictly isolationist in its foreign affairs. Rand Paul has a more moderate take on many of these issues, speaking about incremental changes to national defense policy, the U.S. war on drugs and other topics.
Paul has been working to reach out to crowds outside the traditional GOP voter base, talking about justice system and drug law reform and other issues that have become hot points with minority and traditionally progressive voters. He’s made several visits to historically black universities, including a high-profile speech at Howard University in Washington, D.C.
But he’s also been trying to make himself viable to mainstream Republicans. Paul has taken a less isolationist tack on foreign affairs issues than in the past, for instance, calling for increased funding to America’s military, among other proposals.
He’ll also walk another tightrope: running for president while also trying to hold onto his Senate seat. His current term ends in 2016, and Paul is keen to hold onto the seat in case his presidential ambitions don’t work out. A candidate is technically not allowed to appear on a ballot twice in Kentucky, but a rule change likely to pass the state legislature this year will let Paul get around that provision.